The charitable funding model puts organisations in high competition and doesn’t support them to collaborate. Funding is often invested in innovation projects, without research on what already exists in the sector. This results in charities turning to innovation individually, many without efficiently using their resources.

The Catalyst wanted to support charities across the UK to collaborate, identify where there are opportunities to share a common digital solution and help speed up the process of digital innovation in the sector. Supporting them, we reused the thinking behind our work on the LocalGov Patterns platform, to build a new service for the voluntary sector.


Working collaboratively in a remote team we began the project by mapping the charities providing exceptional services, service propositions, life events and service patterns. We built on the knowledge of the Catalyst staff to find the best case studies in the third sector.

We defined a common vocabulary to help us map these services in a consistent way:

  • service patterns identify the common interaction or task the recipe relates to, a recipe can include several patterns.
  • life events are what’s happening in the life of people accessing the service described in the recipe, not all the recipes have a life event attached
  • beneficiaries are the end-users of a recipe, the tags for the beneficiaries are based on demographics

This shared understanding of what we were looking for contributed to shaping the value proposition of the platform we wanted to create: helping charities work together, reusing what exists.

COVID-19 shed new light on the platform and it became a crucial tool to support charities innovating their services in a time-efficient way. We collaborated with CAST and Snook to deliver the charities focused patterns. Together we undertook interviews, created the Airtable format, revised taxonomy and created interview guides. The Service Recipes platform went live in April 2020.

As of today it has already gone through multiple rounds of iteration, including changes in the look, feel and features. Beyond the platform, we designed and iterated the editorial and publishing workflow. This included the journey of understanding the need of a recipe, finding one and getting it published and changing it from the core team to charity-led, as well as the overall engagement strategy.

Publishing workflow

Creating a publishing workflow document helped us follow a standardised process for producing a recipe. This workflow covers the process from the first contact with the charity to publishing a recipe live on the platform and amending old recipes. This allowed us to:

  • keep recipes consistent in their tone and format
  • work through what’s in/out of scope in a recipe
  • make sure once a recipe is started, it’s not forgotten
  • prompt the team on who is responsible for completing each step
  • guide external contributors

This recipe workflow underwent several iterations and has been designed so the process is linear. The document guides the staff member through the process, with detailed steps and links to relevant materials.

Throughout the project we continually collected feedback from charities testing the platform. We grouped this feedback into themes such as how and why the recipes are useful, the layout of the website and the language used around recipes and patterns. This allowed us to revise our roadmap as we iterated the design of the platform.


We used Airtable to track and manage all the recipes that are in progress, from interview stage to published. This system helps the team manage the process of uploading each recipe, using tags such as:

  • recipes to go online: track and manage all the recipes that are in progress
  • contacts: details of those responsible for the recipe
  • recipe version: to keep track of which recipes are at the latest version
  • recipe progress: helps the team know where a recipe is on the journey to publishing
  • update status: which recipes need to be updated
  • patterns, life events and users: various recipe attributes
Catalyst Airtable service recipes platform demo

Airtable also includes filtered views, a database of contacts, a way to track potential recipes, emerging needs and a way to prioritise individual recipes.

This system also collects responses from people who have filled out the interest and feedback forms in a specific recipe. Allowing the team to monitor ongoing feedback as the service recipe platform continues to grow.

Discussion Guides and Recipe Template

During the project we created two discussion guides for charity interviews, covering topics for staff to discuss when they have an idea of what recipe the charity can contribute and when it’s an open discussion. These are used when staff first talk to charities to get an idea of what recipes they could contribute and what they would cover.

To make it easier for charities to draft recipes content, we also created a service recipe template. The document provides an introduction to service recipes for charities and an outline of the process to get recipes published.

Many of our services have made the switch to online and phone support due to COVID-19. It’s useful to see examples like the Being Woman service recipe where similar questions have already been worked through. And being able to refer to case studies like this, providing reassurance to colleagues that we won’t be starting from scratch when trying something new.


Being Woman


The Service Recipes platform is now in its Alpha stage and has a current focus on the common challenges charities are facing due to COVID-19. These include how to get consent, verify the identity or pick up signals via remote consultation.

To date, the platform hosts 23 recipes, from charities including Barnardos, Alzheimer’s Scotland and Macmillan Cancer Support amongst others. Traffic to the site has been well received with links coming from blog posts and COVID-19 resource pages.

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